June 22, 2024

To most people, politics is something that they implicitly know, thus, dismissing the question as “stupid”. In fact, politics is talked about negatively, ascribing the problems of the country – the rising costs of living, living conditions and almost everything about life to politics. So also, the man on the street, who regards himself as a pundit in politics, will describe a “politician” as a corrupt, wily, dishonest, abusive, pretentious leader, or such other negative attributes.
But, in a democracy, it is actually the electorate that places corrupt, dishonest, and manipulative politicians in office during elections. Later on, they curse with all the invectives that they could think of when these politicians abuse their powers in office and raid the coffers of government and/or act as patrons to people and businesses who give them bribes.
Perhaps, it is timely to revisit what politics is in a democracy. We learned back in college that politics is the exercise of public governance and the promotion of responsible citizenship for the benefit of the common good. This actually defines what good politics is as opposed to bad politics.
Those who exercise public governance are the government officials who are either appointed by the appointing authority or those who are elected into office by the people, particularly, the electorate. For government to be effective, those who are given the power and authority to exercise them must be competent, honest, clean, morally upright, and devoted to his office. Particularly as to elective positions, these characteristics of a good public official must be present in all the candidates to assure good public governance. But in a democracy, any citizen who possesses all of the qualifications and none of the disqualifications to “run for public office” can be a candidate. They are not screened by the Commission on Elections unless a disqualification case is filed. So, it is left to the electorate to scrutinize the qualifications of candidates not only based on the minimum requirements set by law but also on how they measure up to the characteristics of a good public official. It is only when the electorate is conscious or made aware of their vital role in politics can a country have an effective government.
This process, should not, however, only be conducted during election period, as when citizens and church affiliated groups come out with projects and programs for responsible voting, debates and “know your candidates” forum, guidelines on selection of voters, etc. The political maturity of the electorate germinates from their awareness of history and the lessons learned from them as they affected not only their lives but society as a whole. We must realize that in a democracy, although the majority rules, the minority are still part of government. Therefore, should corrupt and incompetent officials run the government, not only those who voted for them in office suffer but also the entire citizenry, including those who did not vote for them.
A meaningful involvement in politics requires people to actively participate in the promotion and advocacy of political and relevant issues and campaign for candidates who, after a careful scrutiny, deserve to be in office. This is no longer the time to be fence-sitters because your inaction can spell the difference between electing the good and the bad. The people should no longer leave the exercise of politics during elections to the candidates and their henchmen. They should also be made aware about political patronage most often used by candidates who have long been in public office. They promise anything to a group, sect or organization in exchange for their votes. This vulnerability of candidates may also be used by influential religious or non-religious sects, as a bait to get the approval of their long pending petitions from an incumbent official who is running for re-election.
A responsible voter must not be swayed by the politics of populism. The voter must hold on to his independent, well thought, of and studied qualifications of candidates and not by manipulated surveys and unverified “news” spread mostly in social media by trolls who are paid generously by filthy rich candidates who have not shown any past political accomplishments.
Our country is still relatively a young democracy. We were colonized for about four centuries by Spaniards, Americans, and the Japanese. Then just as when our democracy or self-rule started to develop, the Marcos dictatorship abruptly interrupted our growth. We were deprived of democracy and the healthy development of future leaders stunted for more than a decade and a half. Graft and corruption in government seemed to have been institutionalized in government and patronage politics was integrated into the psyche of the people who would need the backing of someone influential to get favors from government. Then when elections come, the candidates would count on these beneficiaries of favors to support them. The principle of good governance is set aside.
The forthcoming elections will be a gauge on how our country has politically matured since our democracy was restored by the 1986 People Power revolution.
Have we learned from the lessons of history or are we bound to repeat them? (DEL CLARAVALL)